IPL would be a coup for SA

Beware Potchefstroom, Kimberley and Paarl. Rumours have been doing the rounds that the big-time Bollywood Banjoree that is the IPL could be coming to town. Unlikely venues the Afrikaans South African backwaters would be to host the glitz and glamour of one of world sport’s richest tournaments, but maybe it would be a good idea.

Yesterday Cricket South Africa chief Gerald Majola said: “There have been no talks. It is definitely a rumour.” And when a mate of mine from SkySports got through to IPL boss Lalit Modi, he gave one of those answers that doesn’t actually answer anything at all. Today Majola put out the following statement: “There has been no official approach by either the BCCI or the IPL and we don’t know where these rumours are emanating from.”

But South African Cricketers’ Association chief Tony Irish told Cape Town’s Weekend Argus newspaper, “I understand that discussions have been taking place and these appear favourable”

“Reading between the lines, I think it will happen.”

Wanderers, Centurion and Potchefstroom would be the likely venues if South Africa takes over the tournament, the newspaper said.

In the marvellous press box at Newlands as we watch South Africa annihilate debutant Bryce McGain against the backdrop of the enticing SAB brewery and the magnificent Table Mountain, the media are talking about little else. Except for Stuart Hess from Independent Newspapers – he is singing “Everybody have fun tonight!”

The Indian government has so far rejected all scheduling proposals by the IPL. Time is running out for the tournament that is due to start in three weeks and continues to be threatened by security fears. The Indian government’s chief concern is that the tournament is due to coincide with general elections, already a major security headache in a country of a billion people and in a sub-continent where terrorism is out of control.

The Mumbai blasts in November 2008 led to the cancelling of the BCCI-back Champions League and only a few weeks ago the Sri Lankan cricket team bus was directly attacked in Pakistan. It was long believed that cricket would never be targeted by terrorists but that has certainly changed.

Cricket is undoubtedly India’s favourite thing and the IPL is a plaything for India’s super-elite, the very people who were targeted in last year’s Mumbai blasts. Indo-Pak tensions are as strained as ever and Pakistani players will not be playing in the IPL, should it go ahead. It would be naïve to believe that the IPL would run without incident, should it go ahead in India next month.

It may seem ironic that South Africa be deemed a safe haven for such an event but temporarily moving the tournament to these shores could be an efficient solution to a problem that just isn’t going to be solved.

South Africa’s cricket grounds are good for Twenty20 matches in that they have nice bouncy pitches and are spectator friendly. The month of May is a bit late for cricket but the weather is generally still okay. Accommodation, transport, practice, media and broadcasting logistics will all be easier in South Africa than in India. There may be a little rain but April / May is the hottest season of the year in India and it is a gruelling time of year to play such a hectic tournament there.

It would seem a bit trivial if the Indian Premier League were played in South Africa. Imagine the Bangalore Royal Challengers playing a home game at Buffalo Park in East London. But moving the tournament could offer a quick fix for the IPL. Expensive contracts would not be broken, players’ lives would not be put at risk and the show would go on. And what a coup it would be for South African tourism and cricket.

Of course the downside to shifting the tournament would be that many matches would be very poorly attended. While the IPL would be able to retain the large revenues from broadcasting rights, it would no doubt lose some of the appeal that makes it such a successful television product. You just can’t compare an Eden Gardens crowd of 100 000 people to a handful of South African wrapped in blankets on a grassy bank for entertainment value.

Either way, I hope there is some truth in the rumour mongering. Though the Caribbean would also be nice!

This article appeared on Cricket365 in March 2009.

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